MAY 25. In spectacular finds, the Archaeological Survey of
India, Chennai Circle, has unearthed a dozen 2,800-year-old human
skeletons intact in urns at Adichanallur, 24 km from Tirunelveli
Tamil Nadu. Three of these urns contain writing resembling the early
Tamil Brahmi script. The dozen urns containing the skeletons form
part of about 100 fully intact urns unearthed in various trenches
the site, where excavation is under way. The urns were found at
depth of two to three metres. The finds may revolutionise theories
about the origin of ancient culture in Tamil Nadu and the origin
writing in South Asia.
Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle,
the director of excavation at Adichanallur, said: "People generally
think that megalithic culture is the earliest culture in South India,
especially in Tamil Nadu. In our excavation [at Adichanallur], we
have come across a culture earlier than the megalithic period."
megalithic period in South India ranges from 3rd century B.C. to
Satyamurthy called Adichanallur "the earliest historical site
Tamil Nadu." The ASI would conduct "a thorough exploration
area" to find out whether there had been any habitation nearby.
such a site was found, it would be the first discovery of its kind
Tamil Nadu. So far, no habitation belonging to this period had been
found in the State. He described the discovery of writing resembling
the early Tamil Brahmi script on the urns as "very important."
of the skeletons have been sent to the National Geophysical
Research Institute, Hyderabad, for carbon-14 dating.
with the skeletons, husks, grains of rice, charred rice and
neolithic celts (axe-like instruments used in agricultural
operations) have been found.
skeletons found in two or three urns show that prior to the
megalithic period, these people used to inter the dead in urns along
with the items they had used. Early Tamil Sangam works contained
elaborate descriptions of the urn-burial custom. At Adichanallur,
pottery belonging to the early historic period, which stretches
3rd century B.C. to 3rd century A.D., was found on the upper layers
of the trenches and the urns were found below. So the discoveries
Adichanallur may go back to 7th or 8th century B.C., probably earlier
than the Sangam period, Dr. Satyamurthy said.
said that since the Brahmi script was found together with the
skeletons, the date of the script could be determined if they could
fix the date of the skeletons. "So far, we have been doing
palaeographic grounds. Now, we will get a scientific date."
that the script might refer to names.
Sathyamurthy said that the Brahmi script of around 500 B.C. had
been found in Sri Lanka. Dr. S.U. Deraniyagala, former
Director-General and now Consultant to the Archaeological Survey
Department, Sri Lanka, called the discovery of the writing on the
urns at Adichanallur "fantastic" and "very, very
evidence of writing on more than 75 pieces of pottery had been found
in Sri Lanka and radio-carbon dating had established that they
belonged to the period between 600 B.C. and 500 B.C. This discovery
"sheds a completely new light on the origin of writing in South
Asia," said Dr. Deraniyagala. Interestingly, there has been
evidence of habitation close to the cemeteries (burial sites)
to G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai
Circle, many artefacts had been found along with the skeletons at
included miniature bowls made of clay that were used in rituals,
black and red wares of megalithic period ranging from the 7th century
B.C. to 2nd century A.D., potsherds with graffiti marks, iron
spearheads, knife-blades and hopscotches of various shapes including
those in perfect circles. These hopscotches were used as weights,